Thanks to this week’s impending Retro Review (he said, hinting broadly) I’ve found myself once again considering the mysterious Tao of the Web-Head. When the Spider-Man universe was rebooted with ‘Brand New Day,’ the powers-that-be at Marvel Comics tried to play it off as a return to the character’s roots, taking him to a place where he was a single luckless college jerk, playing the field and living in Aunt May’s basement.  Interestingly, a few years later, Peter was back at the top of his field, active as an Avenger, being really pretty geniusy marvelous with Aunt May happily married off, before his brain was eaten by an octopus (or something.)  Still, the clear message seemed to be that a Spider-Man without problems wasn’t really Spider-Man at all, and (if you discount the clear message that they just didn’t want him married) there seems to be an expectation that Hard-Luck Parker is editorial’s idea of the character’s natural state.  This, in turn, begs a query…

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) watches him swing on a web, something something frassum blebb, asking: Do you think it’s necessary that Peter Parker be a loser/schlub in order for Spider-Man to work?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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6 Comments

  1. May 12, 2013 at 12:18 pm — Reply

    Comic characters are immortal. No matter what happens, they have to eventually go back to their original states.

    • May 12, 2013 at 12:42 pm — Reply

      Tell that to Lori Grimes

  2. May 12, 2013 at 12:29 pm — Reply

    For me, part of the appeal of any superhero is who/what they are behind the mask/costume/etc. Peter’s life being rough is something I can relate to a lot easier than, say, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark. Sure, they all have tough lives as heroes, but Peter’s story has always drawn me in because he’s just a regular guy who just happens to have powers and is trying to balance the two lives the best that he can.

  3. Oldcomicfan
    May 12, 2013 at 9:52 pm — Reply

    The reason why Spiderman was able to wean me away from Batman and Superman in the early 70s was that while the stories in the DC books had no consequences whatsoever – the events from one book rarely ever carried into the next month’s issue – Spiderman not only had problems, but he learned from his problems and grew beyond the wimpy little nerd he was at the beginning of the series. Then Marvel threw it all away, first when they made him a clone, which discounted all the interesting things he’d done in the last five years, including marrying MJ, then by resetting the universe via Mysterio. If they had wanted Parker single again, all they had to do was make the strain of his being a super hero destroy the relationship between him and MJ, but no, that might actually have been an interesting story, so no, they took the cheap and easy way out. It was just as bad as DC making all the times that Supes and Lois got married “imaginary stories” by the end of the issue. Does Parker need to be a loser? No, so long as he learns and grows and encounters new problems as he does so.

  4. Shush
    May 13, 2013 at 12:09 am — Reply

    Does he need to be a loser or a schlub? No, of course not. At least, not in so many words.

    Peter Parker being such a hard-luck case, as I saw it, was usually a result of him trying to do the right thing. His unglamorous life was what he had to accept as being the consequences of being a hero and keeping a secret identity.

    It worked so well for Peter Parker, because he has so much of a life besides being Spider-Man. Perhaps more than any other superhero. Mary Jane and Aunt May weren’t heroes, his boss J.J. was a big pain in the neck, but not a super villain (and at the best of times had a legitimate, non-straw-man, opinion) Robbie Robertson was usually on his side to balance J.J., there were old girlfriends that didn’t necessarily just disappear once he wasn’t with them any more. Sure, he also had superhero pals, like the Human Torch and Dare Devil (depending on who’s writing), and even Wolverine, but he doesn’t just go about hanging out with them quite as often, and when he does, he’s in costume being Spider-Man.

    What I’m getting at is that the core value of Spider-Man is that he’s Peter Parker and we get to see Peter having to struggle to be a hero, because we get to see so much of his life and his interaction outside of his superheroics.

  5. AllenBT
    May 13, 2013 at 9:07 am — Reply

    Peter’s tough lot in life (orphaned child raised by an elderly widowed aunt living on social security) was/is an important part of his make-up as a hero. He understands, after the tragedy of his Uncle Ben, that personal sacrifice is inherent in his role/calling as a hero.

    Its part and parcel of his character make-up together with being a bit of a nerd, and being significantly younger that all of the other contemporary heroes of the Marvel U (something that in recent times has been downplayed or forgotten). Heck, for most of the character’s life, he makes his only living enabling his Boss’s irrational hatred of Spiderman. It all contributes to his outsider social status.

    In a lot of ways these traits amp up the heroism of the character as well as his identifiability with the reader. It also makes his rare personal triumphs that much sweeter.

    That being said, there have been times that writers have overplayed this plot element. Numerous commentators have likened him to Charlie Brown, in the nearly absurd level of bad luck that befalls him at various times. Like any venerable plot/character trait, its a very fine line between carrying on the tradition and overusing the crutch.

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